: Lady JusticeFandom
: Assassin's CreedSpoilers
: Mild Brotherhood spoilersWarnings
: Murder, nudity and implied rape.Summary
: Claudia seeks revenge.
An Assassin's Creed 2 fan fiction by xahra99
Written for the 2011 femgenficathon for prompt 109: Justice is better than chivalry if we cannot have both. -- Alice Stone Blackwell (1857-1950), American editor, translator and activist for women's rights.
"Fie upon your law!..I stand for judgement."
-William Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice.
Lena Romano died choking on the bed where she earned her living, while the woman who had sworn to protect her cursed and pounded at the locked door of her bedroom. It was a warm spring night in Rome, and the air in the Rosa in Fiori had been sweetly scented to hide the Tiber's stench. Claudia felt each perfumed breath catch in her throat as she braced her hands against the solid planks and pushed.
The door did not budge.
Claudia swore again and spun in a whirl of crimson velvet as the brothel guards lumbered along the corridor towards her. "What took you so long?" she snapped. "Quickly, break it down."
They didn't question her. Alesso took Claudia by the shoulders and pushed her gently to the side while Ugolino stepped back and kicked out the door methodically. The door was heavy, with a good lock. It took Ugolino a good few moments to break it down. Claudia chewed her nails and knew that they were already far too late. She glanced around, palms stinging with the force of her blows, and realised that the news and noise had spread along the corridor. Tousled-haired women and their paramours peered from every door.
"What's going on?" called Flora, the house's best courtesan. Her eyes were wide, her face pale from more than leaded paint.
"It's being dealt with," Claudia said. "Go back to bed!"
Flora tightened her lips, glanced at the slowly splintering door and nodded. She clasped her lover's hand and vanished with him into her room. Seconds later, Ugolino's success was marked by the sound of smashing wood.
Claudia picked up her skirts and was through the door by the time the sawdust had settled. She waved her hand in front of her face to dispel the dust, pausing mid-gesture as she surveyed the gruesome scene. The window was wide open. Curtains billowed in the soft night breeze. Lena lay spread-eagled upon the bed, limbs splayed. Her fair skin was marked by blossoming bruises, her mouth gagged by a crimson scarf. She was not breathing.
Claudia untied the scarf and gathered Lena into her arms while Ugolino crossed to the casement. He leant broad scarred hands on the sill and leaned out into the night.
"Any sign of the bastard?" Claudia asked. She nodded to Alesso. "Quickly, close the door. And pass me a mirror."
Ugolino grunted and pulled back inside. He shook his head. "He's long gone."
"That little rat," Alesso rumbled. "Why did he run? We know his name." He handed Claudia a silver-backed looking glass. The handle of the mirror glittered daintily between his sausage-like fingers as he passed it over.
"I doubt that it's the right one." Claudia said. She required all of her guests to identify themselves, but visitors to high-class brothels rarely divulged their true monikers. She held the mirror carefully to Lena's lips, hoping for a trace of breath to frost the glass. None came.
Alesso squinted at the glass. "She's passed?"
Claudia nodded. She turned the mirror to the wall and closed Lena's eyelids tenderly. Glittery traces of mica shaded her fingertips as she drew back her hand.
"Should I inform her family?" Ugolino asked. He'd drawn the curtains but left the casement open, and the scent of the Tiber was quickly overwhelming Claudia's perfume.
Claudia shook her head and lowered Lena's head as gently as she could to the feather pillows. She wiped her cosmetic-stained fingers on her skirts. "Lena didn't have any family," she said as she drew a sheet over the abused body of the girl. "The Rose was all she had, and the girls'll find out soon enough."
"They won't be happy," Alesso warned. "Lena was popular."
"They'd be unhappier if it had been them," Claudia said grimly. "I won't have murder in my house. It's bad for business."
The brothel guards exchanged glances. "What do we do now?"Alesso asked.
"We'll lay her out in here," Claudia said. "Alesso, find a priest who's not too picky to read her last rites. Ugolino, I need to know everything about the man who murdered her. You can start with his name in the ledger and work from there."
The guard shook his massive head doubtfully. "The bastard will be rich," he said. "It might take a while."
"You've got one day," Claudia told him. "Starting now."
They both gazed at her. "Mistress," one of them said, "what are you going to do?"
"I'll get her justice," Claudia said. "Now carry on with work. I have a funeral to arrange, and it'll take a while."
They held the wake that night and laid Lena in the ground the very next day. The other mourners at the graveyard gave the Rose's girls a wide berth. Claudia had made sure that all the girls owned at least one good black outfit. The courtesans were dressed as modestly as a convent full of nuns, but rumour travelled fast.
"Disgraceful!" one Roman matron muttered as her children towed her quickly away from the crowd of weeping prostitutes. "It shouldn't be allowed."
Claudia narrowed her eyes. Traditional Catholic funerals were denied to those who had lived a sinful life, but the Rosa in Fiori had not provided Rome's aristocrats with guilty pleasures for nothing. Claudia had learned exactly which strings to pull and how hard to tug on them. Due to her influence, Lena was lowered to her rest with all the dignity of an honest woman of the city.
Claudia did not leave the graveside until every woman there had tossed a handful of earth on the lid of Lena's coffin. When the gravedigger began to shovel earth over the pathetic scattering of flowers and gravel she tossed him a coin and walked back through the cobbled streets to her study at the Rose. The first thing she did was pour a cup of rough Roman wine. Her second act was to summon Ugolino.
She passed the guard a cup of his own and beckoned him to sit. "What do you know?" she asked him.
Ugolino gripped his goblet cautiously between thumb and forefinger. "I checked the ledger," he said. "Lena's last customer gave the name 'Il Pretino'
Claudia nodded. She had done as much herself. "The little priest," she said. "I discovered that myself. For Lena's sake you'd best have found out more."
Ugolino drained his cup in one draught. "I know exactly who he is," he admitted glumly. "But you won't like it."
Claudia picked up pen and paper. She sharpened a goose quill with short, vicious strokes of her penknife. "Tell me," she said.
Ugolino sighed. "His name is Marco Ferrari," he told her. "I think you'll recognise the name."
Claudia nodded. "Ferrari," she said as she dipped the sharpened quill in ink as thick as blood."As in Giovanni Ferrari? The Cardinal of Modena and one of Borgia's lackeys?"
"The very same," Ugolino confirmed "A distant grand-nephew, of course, but still...He's done this before, apparently. Back in Modena. The only surprising thing about this whole charade is that he owned up and told the family what he's done. They're planning to ship him out tomorrow night, although I've got no idea where he's headed. Spain, probably-the family are Borgia supporters to the bone." He shook his head. "You'd be mad to pursue it, mistress, even if you could."
Claudia inscribed Marco Ferrari
upon a sheet of parchment. "Then we must move fast."
"What are you planning?" Ugolino asked her suspiciously. "You'd have him killed?"
Claudia shook her head and scored out the name with a brisk stroke of her pen. "I-" she began, but her voice was drowned out by a heavy knock. Claudia glanced immediately towards Ugolino, who rose and threw open the door.
Flora bent into a deep curtsy, her silk skirts rustling like flower petals. She rose quickly as Claudia half-stood and ushered the man behind her into the study. He did not bow, but gave her a stiff, tight little nod. Claudia noticed the colour of his livery immediately: Borgia deep red and yellow.
"This gentleman has a message for you," Flora said. Her lips were tight, spots of crimson rouge burned upon her cheekbones. Her back was rigid. Clearly the messenger had upset her very much. Claudia thought she already knew why.
"Enter," she said, to the man, and, to Flora, "Stay."
The courtesan nodded. Her blond hair glowed against the study's woodwork.
"What have you to say to me?"
The man produced a purse and held it out. "His Holiness Cardinal Ferrari of Modena bids you accept this gold in recompense for damaged goods," he said. The purse dangled in the air between them. Claudia did not say anything. Flora looked outraged. Alessandro and Ugolino exchanged dark looks.
The Borgia messenger looked from one face to another nervously. He laid the purse on a chest beside the door. "There it is," he said. "Take it, and be done."
Alesso made a slight movement towards the table as if he would dash the purse of gold upon the ground. Claudia held up her hand and he stopped instantly. "No," she said. "Let it lie." She raised her chin and looked the messenger straight in his scornful eyes. "You may leave."
"You accept the gift?" he asked her.
"You may leave now,
" she said.
Alesso swung open the door, missing the man's shoulder by inches. "Get out," he growled.
The messenger turned and fled as quickly as his dignity would allow. The folds of his half-cloak swept the purse from the chest as he turned to leave. Flora jumped as the coins rolled out across the floorboards. They toppled with a chink as Ugolino slammed the door behind Ferrari's page.
Claudia reached out with her foot and stirred the coins with the toe of her slipper. "Damn the Borgias," she said as Flora pragmatically made a basket of her skirt and bent down to pick the money from the floor. "I'd ban them from this house but-well, Borgia is Pope, and half of Rome is his affiliate. Flora, don't just stand there trailing coins across the floorboards. Where's the pouch they came in? Ugolino, bring the fruit bowl."
Flora counted the coins into the bowl with a flourish. "There must be two hundred ducats here," she said when the bowl was full.
Claudia nodded. She had not moved from her chair since the messenger had entered. "That seems like an appropriate amount. Andrea Galeazzo spent eight hundred ducats purchasing a pardon for the murder of his wife last month. The Borgia would likely estimate a wife of more worth than a whore."
Flora looked honestly appalled. "You're going to keep
Claudia shook her head. "I'll give it to the poor. Borgia's made a mockery of justice. Let Ferrari think we have accepted his bribe. We know differently."
"They'd sell the blood of Christ in buckets," Alesso rumbled. "But what do you want us to do to the Ferrari boy? Shall we kill him?"
Claudia shook her head. "That's too easy. I'd rather ruin his life."
"Not murder then?" Alesso said.
"No," Claudia said. "Scandal."
"Murder would be easy," Flora said thoughtfully. "Scandal-that's hard. Roma's seen a thousand years of infamy."
"And we only have one night to do it-and one day," Ugolino added.
"That may be true," Claudia said. "But tomorrow's the first day of Holy Week. The exhibition of the Vernicle. Cardinal Ferrari will be there. Borgia, too."
"As well as half of Rome," Flora said. "If you want to have someone humiliated, that's the time to do it."
Claudia smiled. "Exactly. But I'll need the help of all of you."
Alesso coughed. "Your brother-"
"No." Claudia said adamantly.
"Just no," Claudia snapped. "I can manage this myself. Ugolino, we need to know where Ferrari's hiding. Flora, put on your best clothes. We need to bring Ferrari from his house without alerting the guards, and you're the best way to do it. Alesso, bring me-" She tapped her chin with the tip of her finger. "A donkey."
Flora and the two men exchanged a second glance. "A donkey?" asked Flora.
Claudia smiled. "You'll see."
The next morning dawned bright and clear. The streets were already crowded with people hurrying towards the Roman facade of the Basilica di San Pietro. Being Rome, at least a third of the crowd were hawking rosaries, palm crosses or hot pies to the other tourists. The prime standing positions next to the Basilica were filled by sunrise. The Papal Guard kept a rowdy sort of order, strewing palm branches specially imported for the occasion on the cobblestones. They kept the avenues clear in readiness for the entrance of the procession whose arrival at the basilica would signify the unveiling of the divine Vernicle, the handkerchief with which St. Veronica had used to wipe Jesus Christ's face on his way to the cross.
At ten in the morning the Catalan Pope made his appearance at the window overlooking the courtyard, flanked by his cardinals and his bastard son Cesare. The Cardinal Ferrari had been given the task of holding the sacred Vernicle itself, encased within a thick golden frame that all but obscured the artefact itself from view. The divine image had been covered with a linen handkerchief.
The Cardinals and the Pope shaded their eyes, watching the procession of minor clergy along the avenue towards them. The priests were dressed in all their finery, shaded by palm branches and holding wooden crosses. The position at the rear of the procession was occupied by a slow and symbolically riderless donkey. The donkey flattened its ears and chewed meditatively on the sleeve of the Franciscan monk who pulled it along. Its hooves slipped on the pulverised palm branches as it halted, sensing the presence of another animal behind it.
A murmur rose among the crowd.
The second donkey was mounted by Marco Ferrari. He rode astride the donkey, stripped naked and facing backwards over its tail. A placard hung around his neck proclaimed him MURDERER in thick red paint. A crowd of Roman urchins raced behind the animal. They jeered at Ferrari and pelted him with mud and worse things picked up from the sewers.
The monk leading the first donkey glanced behind him. Alarmed, he redoubled his pace, crossing the hundred paces to St Peter's gates in record time. The gates closed behind him. Ferrari's donkey, frightened by the noise and the sudden disappearance of his friend, spun in a circle to face his tormentors. Marco glanced wildly around, eyes rolling, his expression aghast. The Cardinal of Modena, his face almost as horrified, dropped the Handkerchief of the Veronica, whose heavy frame thankfully protected the precious relic from any damage. A Papal Guard helpfully retrieved the Vernicle from the floor and flicked a speck of dust from its gilded frame. He held it out to the Pope, who took it mechanically. The cardinals all stared down at the stripped and absurd figure of Ferrari's errant nephew.
Cesare Borgia stifled a snicker in his sleeve.
Watching from the crowd, her face obscured by a heavy veil, Claudia smiled.
Two weeks later, Claudia was in her study deciphering that month's accounts with all the diligence she had once shown at Monteriggioni when she was interrupted up a cough and a sotto voce
Claudia inhaled sharply, although she did not look up from her bookkeeping. She made one final mark in her ledger before she returned the quill to its rest. "Machiavelli. Who let you in?"
The Assassin smiled thinly and swept his cloak from his shoulders in a deep bow. "Nobody," he said as he straightened. "Is that a problem?"
"No problem," Claudia said. She beckoned. "Please, be seated. Wine?"
Machiavelli shook his head. He pulled up a chair and sat down, rings gleaming in the dim light of the candles. "No, thank you."
"That's a pity. I keep the best cellar in Roma. So what are you here for, if not for my wine?" She arched an eyebrow. "I'd imagine it's about Ferrari. Did you have something to say?"
Machiavelli smiled. "Only bravo
Claudia looked at him, unimpressed. "You didn't like it," she said flatly.
"It lacked subtlety," Machiavelli said.
"I'll take that as a compliment, coming from you. What else?"
The Assassin leaned back in his chair and crossed his ankles. "Did you realise that Borgia had Marco Ferrari killed?" he asked.
Claudia blinked. "No," she said slowly. "I did not. I can't say I disapprove. The Catalan's a ruthless man, and Ferrari is-was
-an embarrassment to his Church. Such as it is."
"Borgia's killed many men for less," said Machiavelli. "Though I hear Cesare found the whole spectacle rather amusing." He smiled. "As did I. How did you do it?"
"A woman must keep her secrets if nothing else," she said. "Don't expect me to give up mine."
"Very well, Madonna," Machiavelli said. "One thing more, I have placed this house and all of its employees under the protection of the Roma Assassins." He looked at Claudia as if he expected her to be grateful. "Well?" he asked as the silence spun out. "Have you nothing to say on the subject?"
"I have a great many things," Claudia said evenly, "but I think it wise if I keep them to myself. This house is not in need of protection."
"Messire, this house sells favours to the majority of the nobility. It is that fact which will keep us safe. I shall continue sending information to your Order-God knows I want Borgia dead as much as any man- but I have my own methods. You'd do well to remember that."
Machiavelli cocked an eyebrow. "I shall, Madonna. I thank you for your hospitality, and for the offer of your most excellent wine. I am afraid I have business to attend to. When next we meet-"
"It cannot be soon enough," Claudia said without sounding one bit like she meant it. "Goodbye, Machiavelli. Wish my brother good day for me."
The Assassin pushed his chair back and rose, the chair legs scraping on the floorboards. "I will. Good night to you, Madonna."
," Claudia said. She watched Machiavelli carefully as he opened the door and slipped out into the corridor. When she was certain that he had gone she dipped her quill into the inkwell and pulled the ledger towards her.
She thought of Marco Ferrari's disgrace with satisfaction as her quill scratched over the parchment. Her path was very different from Ezio's, that was true, but the Auditore had always protected those who could not help themselves. They would continue to do so, if Claudia had any say in the matter. And it was no surprise that despite being a woman, and unmarried, she had found a way to do so. No murderers would stalk the halls of the Rosa in Fiore while she lived. Stay your blade from the flesh of an innocent
, she thought as she scribed. For that-that is the Assassin's Creed. And the Creed is justice.